What to do in 2020
There are many things we could do as Christians and a church in 2020. But the first question is not about doing but about being.
Who shall we be?
First of all disciples of the Lord Jesus. Children of our heavenly Father. Spirit-led lovers of God. To be a holy temple built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
To be that means a close association with Father, Son, Holy Spirit and the other children God is building us together with.
Being people of prayer who all the time are speaking to the Father with thanks, praise, requests (complaints even).
Being people of the Word who hear what the Spirit has said in the scriptures. Whose minds and hearts are full of it. Whose lives are being transformed by it. Who all the time are hearing what the Spirit is saying through the scriptures now.
Being people of the fellowship of God's Son who don't forsake the meeting together. Who encourage one another day by day, especially as the days seem hard and discouraging.
Being people of joy, who even though they are often sad and discouraged, know the presence of the faithful God who never forgets us and always keeps his word.
Being people of wonder and gratitude who always have on their lips the amazing message of salvation through the life death resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Being servant disciples who obey the Lord Jesus without dispute in the face of the demands and offers of many other powers.
Being people and a church like that will lead to action:
To spontaneous and planned telling of the great gospel.
To meeting together both on Sundays and in small groups. Multiplying small groups. Starting new groups.
To acting as agents of the compassionate God in various social contexts by word and deed to saltify the world with God's light.
Will you be in it?
What is Christmas really about?
Here some possible conversation spices for the festive season.
Christmas is really about the great God-invasion. When he stuck his face in ours.
Christmas shows you what God thinks of humans – he became one of us (but so does Good Friday – pity about that: he put us to death!).
Christmas means peace on earth – as long as you are at peace with God.
It must have been a confusing time at Jesus' birth. A blinding light-show, super-rich visitors from half way around the world, local smelly shepherds, an animals' feeding trough as a bassinet, a dad who was a tradesman (well that was good anyway), and a serious attempt to murder him by the political elite. Actually it was quite a good start for someone whose task was to bring together a new united humanity.
Do you think Jesus was a difficult teenager – he was certainly a difficult adult?
Do you think Joseph’s dad said, “Tell Joseph he’s dreaming!”?
Were the wise men really nutters? Can you imagine anyone doing that nowadays?
What do you think Mary and Joseph did with the gold, frankincense and myrrh? What would you have done with it?
Did you know that there probably was no inn? It was really the guest room in a house that was full. [The word is used in the NT also in Mark 14.14.] How would you like to have a baby in an overcrowded two-room house?
Would it have made a difference if Joseph was really the father?
Your spicy question/comment: “ ............................................”
Just about everything to do with the birth and life of Jesus seems wrong.
For someone who was so hyped in the Old Testament, with grand titles like Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God and who was seen as the great successor to Israel’s greatest King. A king with such power and magnificence that David and Solomon together would pale into insignificance alongside him. For someone like that to be born into a peasant family, and grow up in the back-blocks of Galilee defied all sense.
His birth was out of his parents’ usual place. Low level accommodation. No status. No pomp. Some foreigners visited him but the visit seemed to have no political benefits. It was all very low key and below the radar. The best he got from the religious authorities were two old people, apparently on the margin, who were looking forward to his birth.
Not only so. But to start his campaign for rule – world domination one person called it – by spending most of the time in little country villages seems demented.
What was Jesus up to? He refuses opportunities to grandstand. Tries to avoid crowds. But does stunning things that completely amaze the crowds. But it all ends up nowhere it seems.
Well it ends up in the city of the great King. Despite a great entry event, the buzz quickly fades and he is killed.
It all seems so ungrand. So weak. So humiliating in the end. He rose of course. That did make a change to the story. Vindicated. Yes. But why the cross? Why all that low level stuff?
His disciples were very enthusiastic. Spirit empowered we know. But they would have needed to be. Their message was that the Great King, the Messiah, the one called Mighty God had been crucified.
Crucified! How gross. How embarrassing. Only slaves and other half-humans were crucified. No real man would be crucified. Let alone a Ruler.
And yet the disciples made a big deal of it. It is as though the lowly start ended even lower than it started.
And the amazing promise was: identify yourself with this crucified King and all his will be yours. What would you have to be thinking to lower yourself so far?
You would have to give up yourself and your pride and be truthful about your real relationship with the Father of this Jesus. Because the humiliating death of Jesus was really the death of all the proud people who thought they could keep God on a leash and expect him to do their bidding but to ignore what he said. Identifying with their crucified King was a way of acknowledging that we needed supernatural help to be forgiven.
In a way his lowly life pictured the poor state of the proud people he came to save. And also modelled how to live as his people. Dale
The Character of a Church
Does our church have a personality? Or a character? What sort of personality or character does it have? I think all churches have a personality which is formed under the influence of key people. Not usually the minister, but by certain people who influence the way a church behaves and thinks.
Some churches feel as though they are anxious. Others seem very happy and carefree. Some seem tense and argumentative. Others seem welcoming and hospitable. Some feel like the home of prayer.
Of course most churches are mixed and describing their personality can be a bit complex. But thinking about the nature of the group’s character can help us think about what forms it?
I think it is formed by the dominant influencers. Many times these people are not aware of their influence. Especially if it is godly and gracious. Being aware of the potential to influence a church might make the influence more effective.
But what kind of character would you want a church to have? Or what set of behaviour patterns? Where would one get the wisdom to know about this? Once upon a time the Chief Influencer told one of his best friends how to do it. Feed the sheep he said. Don’t let them end up like sheep without a shepherd. What you feed them with will form their character.
Feeding the sheep patterns of behaviour (generosity, hospitality eg) will help establish those patterns. Feeding them the true grace of God will help form God’s character in them.
But who should do this? Anyone with the wisdom. Anyone with in Christ. Everyone with influence could go this way so that their influence grows a church with Christ-like character.
Resting the Spirit
Today’s preaching passage, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Pet 4:14), provokes a question. What would such a church look like?
Someone in my Bible study answered by referring to a medically verified healing miracle in his life. Such a congregation would be filled with folk always telling others, inside and outside the church, what Jesus was doing. How would we become such a church?
At the time of Christ’s baptism John the Baptist testified, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:33-34). John saw the Spirit come to rest on Jesus because he first of all had an insight into the mystery of the cross; “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Christ is the pre-eminent place of the Holy Spirit’s restfulness because in his taking away of all human guilt he is the site of peace with God. Now that atonement has been made there can be no disturbance in the Spirit-Son relationship. This relates powerfully to the shedding of the Lord’s blood on the cross.
“God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.” (Col 1:20). “Everything includes you”, and all the other people at St Mark’s who believe in Jesus. If we appropriate this truth by faith our hearts will be stilled and the Spirit will comfortably rest on us. But here’s the catch, few Christians deeply believe that “Christ himself is our peace” (Eph 2:14). I regularly have to rebuke believers who, in their own words, are “hard on themselves”. Harsh self-judgement insults the all-sufficiency of the blood of the cross. On the other hand the wise apostle Paul testifies, “I do not even judge myself” (1 Cor 4:3).
In the glory of the perfected work of Christ the Holy Spirit longs to rest on us as the family of God. This can happen, if we stop judging ourselves, and others. When the Spirit rests on us we will continually testify to Jesus. How wonderful!